DTV Transition

There's a general, unwritten rule that it's a VERY good idea to avoid blogging about anything political on a blog such as mine.  It's much to divisive, but I'm going to violate that rule this one time.For the past few years, we've been seeing information about the DTV transition coming Feb. 17th, in the form of crawls across the TV screen, cheesy commercials, and marketing.  Unfortunately, it looks like this transition is going to be put on hold until June -- something I think is a big mistake.  DTV is a fantastic step forward.  In fact, if you're looking to cut costs and save a few bucks in this economy, and you'd like to ditch your cable or satellite provider, odds are you can put up an antenna and get fantastic results, including all of the subchannels that DTV stations frequently offer.  The beauty of DTV is that, for the most part, you either get the signal or you don't -- there's virtually no middle ground (yes, it's possible for a marginal signal to experience digital dropouts -- but the classic snow and ghosting is gone).  To test this myself, the first thing I did was get a decent antenna.  After researching the net, I picked up a Channel Master 4228HD.  I wasn't sucked into the "HD" hype on the antenna label -- although DTV signals requires ATSC tuners (and really, that's where the difficulty is with this whole transition), it's same signal folks have been getting since the beginning of TV -- except, most stations are broadcasting in UHF and only a few, percentage wise, are staying in VHF.To know for sure what your situation looks like, the two best sites to visit are and  Both sites allow you to put in your address and see where the local stations are relative to you, and also anticipate what kind of antenna you will need to receive signals.  In my case, I decided to mount the antenna in my attic.   Attic mounting isn't as desirable as mounting outdoors, of course, but much easier and less of an eyesore and will be better (generally speaking) than set-top antennas.  I disconnected my cable feed (well, in truth I left the one hooked up for the cable modem, but that's it) and plugged the antenna into my house distribution amp.  Most antennas will require some type of amp if you'd like to drive more than one TV.   There are two types of amps -- preamps, and distribution amps.  Preamps are "in line" amps that you hook up close to the antenna, and help make up for weak signals and long cable runs.   Distribution amps split the signal a certain number of times -- 2, 4, or 8 are most common -- and instead of a passive splitter that would cause significant signal loss on each leg, the distribution amp minimizes that loss as much as possible.Part of the reason the DTV transition is delayed is because the government coupon program ran out of money.  I got in before the coupon program began waitlisting folks, but I have to say, I think they should've offered only 1 coupon per family.  While we've all been in hard times financially at one point or another (and right now is a pretty popular time), one converter per family, I feel, is fair.  If finances are so tight, TV shouldn't be a priority.  But I digress.  So, I have two TVs -- one with an ATSC tuner, and one without.  The one with the ATSC tuner, of course, can take the signal directly from the antenna.  The one without needs a converter box, so I went to my local store and used my coupon to get an Insignia converter box.  I fired it up, it scanned, and got all my channels right away -- this is a TV in my workout corner of the garage (excuse the dark border -- the converter is to the right side of TV with a blue light):The nice thing is that DTV signals are crisp, carry subchannels and program information.  Obviously this set above cannot do HD, but my other one can and the quality is actually better than cable or satellite, since those providers need to compress the signal more than OTA does.One thing to realize regarding DTV is that channels are virtual.  For example, my local Fox affiliate is channel 8, but it's really broadcasting DTV on channel 35.  An ATSC tuner handles this seamlessly and you don't really need to concern yourself with this information, except in this case, channel 8 is VHF and 35 is UHF, so it may affect what antenna you get.  (My affiliate is actually switching back to channel 8 VHF post-transition for their DTV signal.)Unfortunately, though, it looks like this transition will now be pushed back to June.  As I said above, I personally feel the delay is a mistake.  While it's certainly true that many Americans will be unprepared, I'm not quite sure a few months would make any real difference, and if anything, cause widespread confusion and chaos.  As I write this, all literature including the DTV site is saying "12 days" until the transition.  Broadcasters, in many cases, are maintaining two towers to broadcast both analog and digital until the transition, and many companies are preparing to use the new whitespace for their products.   Some other products, like wireless microphones that operate above 700MHz are in a similar transition period, since they can't (or shouldn't -- I'm not sure if it's a law or not) be used post-transition.  To make up for the added cost, the bill was amended to essentially let carriers choose if they'd like to cease analog transition post February 17.  So, some stations might stop, others might keep going.  Perhaps others will stop somewhere in between.   Top it all off is the mixed messaging consumers are seeing regarding the transition.   What a mess.Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced this bill and posted the information on his website.  While some reasons are of course valid (and will be valid at any time, even in June), the one bullet point I found particularly humorous:So ... no one thought, when they picked this date way back when, that it would be winter?   Are we going to hear in the summer that there's the danger of heatstroke?   Because DTV uses the exact same signals, consumers generally won't need a new antenna, and many installed them months or years ago to prepare, or do attic installs like myself.   Tower crews face many dangers at any time, and because most/all are broadcasting both signals right now, it's not like someone needs to climb the tower on midnight of February 17.  By far, I believe the most valid reason for delaying the transition is the ability for folks to receiving emergency messaging.  However, the smartest thing to do is to have a battery or crank operated emergency radio for such things, especially the kind that can alert you when everyone is asleep.   Come to think of it, maybe we should have a coupon program for emergency radios?While everyone will have different opinions on this issue (and that's why we tech bloggers should avoid political issues to begin with), and the end of day, is TV really all that important?

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